What is ‘leverage’ (NGO-speak version) and why does it matter?

July 10, 2013

What to read (and watch) on Egypt

July 10, 2013

Could crowdsourcing fund activists as well as goats and hairdressers?

July 10, 2013
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I’ve often wondered if Oxfam or other large INGOs could include the option of sponsoring an activist, either as something to accompany the goats,oxfam-goat-590 toilets, chickens etc that people now routinely buy each other for Christmas, or instead of sponsoring a child. I had vague ideas about people signing up to sponsor an activist in Egypt or South Africa, and in return getting regular tweets or Facebook updates. Alas, I’ve never managed to persuade our fundraisers to give it a go.

Now it’s come a bit closer to home. My son, who is a community organizer for the wonderful London Citizens, is currently looking to raise funds to work with a bunch of institutions in Peckham, South London. I couldn’t help him much as I’m rubbish at fundraising, (sure I’m a huge disappointment to him) but it did start me wondering whether there is an activist equivalent to the kind of crowdsourcing sites that are all the rage for small businesses (Kiva, Kickstarter etc). So, inspired by the feedback to my Monty Python bleg, I tweeted a request for sites.

What emerged was a (for me) previously invisible ecosystem of crowdfunding options for radicals. Here’s the list of the links people sent it:

edgefund.org.uk ‘Edge Fund is a grant-making body with a difference. We support efforts to achieve social, economic and environmental justice and to end imbalances in wealth and power – and give those we aim to help a say in where the money goes.’ [via @ LABatSMK]

startsomegood.com mainly for US activists seeking funding, but others from Australia and UK [via @ hackofalltrades]

changemakers.com has more of a focus on innovation than activism, and has a global reach [via @ roscaf]

youcaring.com mostly for paying medical expenses in the US [ via @ YALoved]

thesparkproject.com nice example from the Philippines for funding social projects [via @ papalphacharlie]

In Germany activists use adoptrevolution.org to support activists in Syria, as well as the much larger (and global) betterplace.org platform [via @joanabp]

Which one's mine?

Which one's mine?

It’s still pretty small (do add to the list), but showing signs of growing. And activist crowdfunding is itself a subset of a wider movement of so-called ‘disintermediation’, people sending money directly to where they want it to go, rather than through intermediaries. That has spread not just to business investments but also direct giving to poor people (see my earlier post on GiveDirectly) and some suggestions for similar exercises to Alaska’s scheme of transferring oil royalties direct to citizens’ bank accounts..

Thanks to all those who retweeted, and look forward to getting more links in due course.

10 comments

  1. Just a thought: the intermediation of funders provides more than a allocative function when it comes to activists. It also obscures the source of their funding. In repressive regimes that’s critical – even life-saving But even in relatively open systems, there’s no easier way to cut down an activist organization that to accuse it of being a puppet for outside/special interests. I suspect that might limit the willingness of activists to use crowd-sourced models.

  2. I think Oxfam has had funding for campaigners as one of the Oxfam Unwrapped gifts in the past. These ideas are coming but the hard part is the reporting back. I’ll fund “my” campaigner , you fund yours , we each want reports back , so each campaigner spends large part of their time reporting back. What if one of your campaigners gets lots of funding and one doesn’t ? What does the choice of presenter for the video on Brazil protests you recently shared tell us ?http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=15051

    1. Fair points Ken, but feedback via twitter and FB cd go to all funders. As for unfair allocation of resources – I guess the same thing goes for child sponsorship, no? How did they deal with it?

  3. http://www.indiegogo.com has a section dedicated to political projects and operated on basically the same model as kickstarter. US focussed, but has had international stuff. This is one of the platforms that the Turkish expats in the used to fund their ads in the major US newspapers.

  4. Northern churches increasingly support southern churches directly with money and exchange visits. Arguably they’re moving to seeing NGOs’ role as disaster relief and campaigning rather than development, because they think they can do the development themselves without an intermediary.

  5. I think child sponsorship does indeed have that problem , and you get round it by “intermediating”. The NGO collects the funds and redistributes them evenly but depends whether you even think this a problem or a virtue. Maybe it’s the difference between US and European approaches like in the US you have churches on every street corner and folk can choose where to go , in the UK we have parishes and resources are more pooled and allocated centrally as think fairness trumps choice.

  6. The German fund Bewegungsstiftung (Foundation for Social Movements) funds activists: http://www.bewegungsstiftung.de/bewegungsarbeiter.html?&L=1

    There was also an activist-led fund in California called Adopt an
    Activist which asked people to support activists by paying for travel costs etc.

    Edge Fund also supports commmunity activists (in the UK) but we are quite particular about who because of the issues this can present in terms of who is speaking for who and the imbalance of power it can create within a community or movement, as outlined in our criteria below. Crowdfunding for activism is great, crowdfunding for activists is a little more complicated.

    Supporting individuals

    Many people have great ideas and perspectives and a real passion for justice, but face enormous challenges in taking action. This is because we live in an unequal society where some people are held back because of their personal circumstances and backgrounds. These challenges result in further inequality within the social justice movement, as individuals from more privileged backgrounds are more likely to have advantage over others, such as the time and resources that enable them to take part. This presents a barrier to building a diverse, inclusive movement; a movement which is representative of all the different people and communities in the UK and also reflects the society we strive towards. As a small step in addressing this we would like to offer grants of up to £1,000 to individuals who are faced with these challenges and can demonstrate a clear commitment to taking action.

    We recognise that this is a complex issue and that there are a number of factors we need to keep in mind. In social movements around the world there is a concern about the ‘professionalisation’ of activists, where salaries from large charities and other organisations have diluted people’s politics and often distanced them from the grassroots. Giving funding to individuals can in itself create inequalities. Individuals are also much more likely to feel disheartened on being turned down for funding.

    However, we feel it’s worth taking these risks and are committed to seeking feedback, reflecting, learning and reviewing this programme as long as we need to. We feel that providing funds to people whose circumstances prevent them from being active in social change could help to empower and widen the movement and to ensure the voices of those most directly affected by inequality and injustice are heard. We’d love to hear from you if you have any comments or ideas.

  7. I was directed to Indiegogo.com by US-based colleagues when mulling over the idea of employing crowdfunding for a women’s group working on reproductive health and rights in Kenya. It is difficult for tiny community-based organizations to access to their first 10-30K even when they have an innovative idea or a gross human rights violation they are looking to tackle. Indiegogo seemed like an interesting way to connect progressive individual donors with innovative projects— especially young donors looking to challenge the status quo in development aid. But looking around at the existing campaigns for funding on Indiegogo I became unsure whether this (or any?) form of crowdfunding could really be taken seriously.
    Most of the campaigns you encounter, when entering “Africa” into the search bar, involve an American travelling to Africa to perform some act of service or volunteerism. While this could be very productive, and is at very least a valuable cross-cultural experience, I have my doubts about both the lasting impact and the potential for furthering a form of savior-mentality towards the global south. It is unclear to me whether to take it seriously as a new movement of grassroots fundraising or a popularity contest involving web-savvy friends and family.
    I agree with Algoso, in his comment above, that the intermediation of funds could be very valuable to activists seeking to challenge a government or a powerful donors’ policy, but given that it is unrestricted (something not easy to come by) couldn’t it actually serve to prevent western or donor-driven agendas?
    I haven’t decided whether to start a campaign with my colleagues in Kenya on Indiegogo or not. I’m still pondering, and am open to feedback, so thanks for bringing this up!

  8. Hi there,

    Thanks for the shoutout for StartSomeGood.com in your article! My name is Natasha and I’m on the team at StartSomeGood. I just wanted to clarify, we are an international platform open to cause related projects from almost any country! Our team is spread out across Australia, Europe and America.

    If you’d like to know more, check us out at http://www.StartSomeGood.com or email hello@startsomegood.com

    In response to Katelin, we also see lots of grassroots community driven initiatives (in fact we encourage them!). Would love to know more about your project and host it on our platform!

    Great article!
    Natasha – StartSomeGood.com

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